Friday, February 6

the sun sets in the west; in arizona actually

Road Warrior Report
Days on the Road: 10
Miles Driven: 4774
States Visited: VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, TN, AR, OK, TX, NM, AZ, NV

In a Calvin and Hobbes comic, Calvin asks his dad where the sun goes when it sets. Calvin's father, the consummate sarcastic ass, replies, "The sun sets in the west. In Arizona actually, near Flagstaff. That's why the rocks there are so red."

The rocks in Flagstaff are not actually red. In fact, most of them were covered in snow when I drove through the city en route to the Grand Canyon.

I arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon just after eight in the morning. If anyone recalls, shortly after my trip to Peru last year, I declared that the Grand Canyon was a puddle of mud compared to Peru's Colca Canyon. I was terribly wrong. While the Colca Canyon is unmatched in terms of depth and sheerness of the canyon walls, the Grand Canyon is one of nature's greatest accomplishments. The canyon lies among an elite group of naturescapes--including Yosemite--that are impossible to properly describe with any adjective in the English language.

Originally I had planned to hike the eighteen miles down to Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. However, I was heading to Las Vegas that evening and the park ranger warned me that it was pure insanity to attempt that hike in one day. Instead I decided to make my way down the Bright Angel Trail and see how far I could get by noon. To be honest, I was a little concerned the icy conditions and the eventual hike up would make me wish I had just stayed at the top.

The first quarter mile was pretty dicey due to a thick layer of ice covering the trail. A hiker I passed remarked that I had pretty good traction and I replied, "Yeah, I've got great boots, but I shouldn't say that because I'll end up slipping and falling off the cliff in five minutes." I didn't tumble off the cliff, but five minutes later I slipped and fell on my behind.

The best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon is late winter/early spring. There were probably ten other people in the park besides myself, and the daytime temperature on the canyon floor was only seventy degrees. Snow and ice are present on the rim and the first five hundred feet into the canyon, but get a little further down and the trails are impeccable.

After an hour of hiking I was at Indian Gardens, 4.6 miles and 3060 vertical feet from the rim. Emboldened by the speed of my descent I hiked on to Plateau Point, another 1.5 miles and undoubtedly one of the best decisions I've ever made. While the trail to Phantom Ranch continues to dive towards the bottom, the Point trail winds across a plateau that extends into the middle of the canyon and abruptly ends with a 2000 foot drop into the Colorado River. It's an unbelievable experience to be strolling along this plateau with a uninterrupted panoramic view of the entire canyon. Further, I was the only person on the plateau for nearly an hour, other than the condor that was nested about twenty feet away.

The hike up was surprisingly easy. I left the plateau a little before noon and was standing on the rim at two. That's 6.1 miles and about 3150 feet in just over two hours. The Park Service has a billboard at the trailhead that is full of warnings like: "Make sure you bring this, this and this or you will DIE! Or worse, we'll have to come rescue your dumb ass." The billboard also had a list of the time estimates for hiking the trail. I got out my camera to take a picture for future reference and a woman came up behind me and said, "Taking a picture to prove you were here?" "No," I replied. "I'm taking a picture because this billboard says it would take 8-12 hours to hike the trail I just came off of and I did it in five." Apparently when the Park Service performs trail estimates they assume everyone hiking either has a walker or is in a wheel chair.

After sitting on the rim and staring off into the distance for an hour or so, I got in the car and left for Las Vegas.

Lack of pictures is unavoidable due to slow computers and not enough time.

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